The 3rd Commandment: Not Just About Swearing

Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.

This is the 3rd commandment that God gave Moses on Mt. Sinai. Anybody raised in a Christian tradition who has grown up learning the 10 commandments has been taught to avoid taking the name of the Lord in vain (by saying such expletives such as “oh my god”, “goddamn”, etc..) and avoiding using expletives in general. It is why people like Jules from Pulp Fiction do not fit well into Christian churches.

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But is there more going on with this commandment than just not swearing?

If you think about it, not swearing seems like a pretty minor thing to mention. We only have 10 commandments, and they range from not killing to honoring God. All of the other commandments deal with pretty heavy topics, and then randomly we get the 3rd one. It almost seems like an afterthought: “Hey guys, don’t kill, steal, lie, break the Sabbath day or worship false Gods.. Oh and by the way, try not to swear while you are at it.”

On a basic level, this commandment teaches us the importance of the words that we use. In the beginning of the Gospel of John, the Word is used as a symbol for Jesus Christ. The epistle to the Hebrews has this verse:

Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear. (Hebrews 11:3)

Words seem to be the basis behind the creation of the Earth. In Mormon theology, the world was created by God giving commandments to the other pre-mortal spirits. His words described the blue print for our Earth and our existence upon it. With this, we can see the importance and power of his words, which suggests the Proverb:

Death and life are in the power of the tongue: and they that love it shall eat the fruit thereof. (Proverbs 18:21)

Ok so we see that words are powerful. We need to watch what we say, because language and communication have the power to destroy or give life to all around us. That is a powerful message, but only a superficial reading of this commandment.

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Baptism plays a key role in Mormon theology. It is seen as the gate through which we enter that sets us on the path that eventually will lead to heaven:

Wherefore, do the things which I have told you I have seen that your Lord and your Redeemer should do; for, for this cause have they been shown unto me, that ye might know the gate by which ye should enter. For the gate by which ye should enter is repentance and baptism by water; and then cometh a remission of your sins by fire and by the Holy Ghost. (2 Nephi 31:17)

When we are baptized a few things happen. We receive a remission of our sins up to that point (meaning that we are forgiven for any wrongdoings performed before the baptism) and we enter a covenant with God. In baptism, God gives us the possibility of eternal life and promises both a remission of sins and the companionship of the Holy Ghost. Our end of the bargain is spelled out in the Doctrine and Covenants:

And again, by way of commandment to the church concerning the manner of baptism—All those who humble themselves before God, and desire to be baptized, and come forth with broken hearts and contrite spirits, and witness before the church that they have truly repented of all their sins, and are willing to take upon them the name of Jesus Christ, having a determination to serve him to the end, and truly manifest by their works that they have received of the Spirit of Christ unto the remission of their sins, shall be received by baptism into his church. (DC 20: 37)

In the language of the Old Testament, in baptism we take the name of the Lord God. When we are baptized, we are covenanting to be known as a follower of Jesus Christ.

Taking upon us the name of Jesus Christ has six meanings, as described by Elder Dallin H. Oaks in a general conference address. (The following are quotes from his address)

  1. Following the scriptural pattern, persons who are baptized witness before the Church that they have truly repented of all their sins, and are willing to take upon them the name of Jesus Christ, having a determination to serve him to the end.
  2. As a second obvious meaning, we take upon us our Savior’s name when we become members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints… Every member, young and old, is a member of the “household of God.”
  3. We also take upon us the name of Jesus Christ whenever we publicly proclaim our belief in him. Each of us has many opportunities to proclaim our belief to friends and neighbors, fellow workers, and casual acquaintances. As the Apostle Peter taught the Saints of his day, we should “sanctify the Lord God in [our] hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh [us] a reason of the hope that is in [us].”
  4. A[nother]… meaning appeals to the understanding of those mature enough to know that a follower of Christ is obligated to serve him.
  5. Willingness to take upon us the name of Jesus Christ can therefore be understood as willingness to take upon us the authority of Jesus Christ. According to this meaning… we witness our willingness to participate in the sacred ordinances of the temple and to receive the highest blessings available through the name and by the authority of the Savior when he chooses to confer them upon us.
  6. Finally, our willingness to take upon us the name of Jesus Christ affirms our commitment to do all that we can to be counted among those whom he will choose to stand at his right hand and be called by his name at the last day. In this sacred sense, our witness that we are willing to take upon us the name of Jesus Christ constitutes our declaration of candidacy for exaltation in the celestial kingdom. Exaltation is eternal life, “the greatest of all the gifts of God.”

Wow. Those are some pretty hefty responsibilities.

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When we take the time to study the details of the baptismal covenant, we realize how important it is and how much it involves. Baptism (or any covenants for that matter) should not be taken lightly. Taking upon us the name of Christ is a sacred responsibility, and one that has far reaching consequences.

With that in mind, look back at the third commandment:

Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.

Yes, we should not swear, but what this seems to be really telling us is to not take the name of the Lord upon us in vain. If we enter into those covenants, we will not be held guiltless if we fall away from them.

It might be a huge responsibility, but the blessings far outweigh the risks.

 

 

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